Gulmohar is gearing up for an OTT release and all signs of its success are already evident in the initial reactions of the audience. And Manoj Bajpayee, as he often does, surpasses expectations in a moving lead performance in the film. As one of the highest paid and most celebrated actors on OTT, it is fair to say that Manoj Bajpayee’s extraordinary career began as a multi-faceted common man in a flamboyant film gangster Bhiku Mhatre.
After the screening, Bajpayee takes out time to chat with me about his journey of becoming the toast of every award dedicated to web series and at the same time working in strong indie film projects for OTT platforms. “You have to understand the purpose of all forms of entertainment,” says Bajpai. In our country (referring to mainstream Bollywood movies) you can’t take your craft too seriously – you have to go out there as a blank slate and entertain the audience and make them go through all kinds of emotions while watching is the only work. the film. But in an indie film, you’re not conscious of the audience—it’s just about the story and the storytelling.
This new middle-of-the-road cinema is the beautiful genre our country has come up with, and Gulmohar is just that. It has many of the best things from mainstream cinema, and it has wonderful things from indie cinema. That is, the script has been written so beautifully that people are connecting with it while going through all the emotions. It is not thrilling or sensational, but at the same time, it is making it accessible to the audience. The actor’s job here is simply to be in character, to be true to the character and to be a continuation of it. Just flow with it and that is what we have done in Gulmohar as well.”
I ask him how he started understanding the nuances of OTT series and independent OTT films, which are different from mainstream films and television. Bajpayee goes on his thoughts before starting his first OTT show, “When The Family Man started, my wife thought I would be doing some television series because OTT was not that big, and people were not aware of its power. Were. What I was looking for was not a thriller or drama full of sex or violence. I was looking for something unique, which had never been done before and I was very fortunate that Raj and DK came up to me with the idea. It touched my heart. It struck me that my character Shrikant Tiwari is not just a family man, but he is also RK Laxman’s common man, who is observing everything, doing a job and commenting on the world around him. And that’s where we scored. He is every man of this country who is facing the same problems. I have only done my bit as an actor but I never felt that it was going to be so big that it would increase my fan base in such a big way. I have seen the show Narcos in America and I have seen and read about its effect on people’s mind. So, in my mind, The Family Man has become the Narcos of the world from India. It really has exceeded in every way.
Talking further about the secret of his growth, Bajpayee says, “No actor is good if he is not growing. Or if he is not interested in growing and developing every day as the world is changing rapidly. Look at the phone, it has changed its shape and nature. And five years from now we’ll be talking about how naive we were in understanding its potential to grow. Technology is evolving and even we actors have to, and I keep an eye on that all the time.
To my question about how he stays up to date with the changing times and on top of his game, Bajpayee revealed that he does acting workshops all the time. “Sometimes Mukesh Chhabra calls me to his workshop and sometimes to NSD. Once I was invited by FTII. Whenever I am free, I go there because I personally think this is what I can give back. You have to give back to the generation. You have to shorten their journey to support and mentor them. This would be my biggest achievement. I always think how many people’s journeys can I reduce.
We move on from her mentoring young mind to talk about things closer to home, her 12-year-old young daughter, and what she thinks about herself. Bajpayee smiles and says, ‘At the moment she doesn’t think anything about me. Right now, all she wants is that I never get out of the car when we drop her off at her boarding school. She feels very embarrassed that all her friends and school staff are willing to pose for photos with me. Once he even said that ‘Let me live a normal life, so don’t get out of the car’. But other than that I am lucky to have got a kid who is so sharp. I am very thankful to my wife that she is nurturing him in terms of his education and his social skills which is very important.
We end our conversation by talking about our home state and the cinema it produces. Bajpai says, “Bihar has a lot of potential in terms of developing its art and culture. I have requested Tejashwi Yadavji and Nitish (Kumar)ji to open the Natya Sansthan and renovate all the auditoriums and make a great complex for art and culture. I am not a rich person, but if Bihar needs me for art and culture, I will be there.
It’s heartening to see that the immensely talented actor is sticking firmly to his roots despite his success, trying to give back to the people who got him where he is. Such is the true essence of Manoj Bajpayee, India’s ever-evolving common man who has successfully forayed into both mainstream and indie cinema and become the cynosure of OTT platforms.
(Priyanka Sinha Jha is a senior editor, writer and content creator who comments extensively on Bollywood, celebrities and popular culture. Views are personal.)